July 3, 2004 | Broadcast

NBC Nightly News

TOM ASPELL reporting:

John, if confirmed, this would be the third decapitation of a foreign hostage here since May, a particularly gruesome method of execution, aimed at driving foreigners and coalition troops out of Iraq. Today the Arabic Web site Ansarnet posted a statement said to be from the Ansar al-Sunna Army addressed to President Bush saying it had executed its hostage, Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun. “Tell your leadership that we beheaded the Marine of Lebanese origin, Hassoun, and you will see the film with your own eyes soon,” it said. “Your soldier had romantic relations with an Arab girl, and was lured away from his base,” the statement added. It said it would soon release another videotape showing what it called “a new infidel hostage.” The Marines listed Hassoun as missing in Iraq June 20th. A week later, a videotape broadcast on Al showed him kneeling blindfolded in front of masked men, one of them brandishing a sword above his head, threatening to behead him unless the US released detainees from Iraqi jails. It also showed Hassoun’s military ID card. Middle East analysts believe Hassoun’s kidnappers may have deliberately chosen this weekend to announce his execution.

Mr. WALID PHARES (Middle East Analyst): July Fourth is important to them. They would like to make any holiday, especially this national holiday with national and historic signifi–significance, as a day of mourning.

ASPELL: The Ansar al-Sunna Army claimed responsibility for twin suicide attacks on two Kurdish political officers in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil in February which killed more than 100 people. It’s believed to be made up of Iraqi followers of the strict Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam which has a wide following in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The US military here will not comment on reports that Wassef Ali Hassoun has been executed. They say there’s an ongoing military operation still searching for him. John:

SEIGENTHALER: NBC’s Tom Aspell. Tom, thanks.